It was silent as the sun continued to dip down. Vhalla heard the Imperial soldiers shifting restlessly. What if she was wrong? If an attack didn’t come, she’d likely be hung.
But through her nerves she heard them, a hazy mass in the distance, advancing through the treetops and on land. It was a hidden army, expecting to slaughter the soldiers settling into their tents for the night. The Northerners were outnumbered—at least on the eastern side—Vhalla realized. Without the element of surprise in the North’s favor, the South should take the battle.
She decided to conserve her power and shifted her eyes back to normal. They would be upon them soon. Vhalla heard the whine of bowstrings being pulled taut in the twilight.
There was one thing that gave away the camp as different from any other day: the quiet. Everyone waited with baited breath. Vhalla saw a flash of magic from the corners of her eyes. A man crouched in a tent, nowhere near where he usually slept, wielding a dagger made of ice.
Fritz glanced over at her, and Vhalla mouthed his name in shock. He smiled weakly and gave a small nod. Elecia was at his side as well. Vhalla realized too late that instead of spending the night hunting legendary axes, she could’ve—she should’ve—spent it with her friends. Had she learned nothing from Larel’s death?
There was a cry across the burnt and dusty plain, heralding the Northerners as they charged through the trees. Vhalla’s head snapped back to the distant rumble of footsteps. The enemy had made their play, they committed to their dash, not realizing the monster they were about to wake. Vhalla watched the army hold, each soldier exacting extreme control.
The Northerner’s first line was almost on the outer edge of camp when the horn rang out. It echoed across one tower to the next. Tents were thrown aside, some cut right off, by the Imperial soldiers hiding beneath them. There was only a moment for the Northerners to register what was happening as the first wave of arrows crashed down upon them.
She caught a glimpse of Daniel leading the first charge, and Vhalla’s heart beat so hard in her chest it should have broken a rib. Everyone she cared about readied themselves to launch their attack. Aldrik, Daniel, Fritz, Baldair, and even Elecia; how could she keep them all safe?
To the chorus of the arrows knocking against bows and the hymn of steel finding steel, Aldrik brought his feet to a run. Vhalla sprinted at his side, pushing everything else from her mind and focusing on what she must be. She saw him raise his hand as the second wave of Northerners left the distant tree line. A furious beat began to ring out in her ears.
This was it.
VHALLA DIDN’T HEAR the groan of the trebuchet as it launched its first load toward the outer forest’s edge. The screeching of swords faded away. There was only him, there was only his body, his breath, his life, and the pulsing magic that flowed unhindered between them.
Aldrik’s arm moved through the air and Vhalla knew his will before the magic left his body. Vhalla brought out a hand. Aldrik stopped suddenly; she halted with him in the same instant. The prince hardly registered her movement and Vhalla wondered if he felt it the same as she did. If he too knew that the deep connection they’d been fostering for months was finally ready to be shown to the world.
His magic flared. Vhalla brought both hands up together. Her wind took up his flame, the magic crackling around her fingertips. The scaffold of his command supported it, and their Joining enabled Vhalla to build upon his sorcery, stitching hers to the edges—making it something greater than either part.
Vhalla swept her arms across her body and watched the fire carry through the air, over the heads of the Imperial soldiers, igniting the distant trees and, with it, legions of Northern Groundbreakers who had taken their vantage there. The fire was white hot, and she shifted her hands, stirring it into a vortex of flame.
Uncurling her fists, fingers taut, Vhalla thrust her hands above her head and open to the sky. The fire mimicked her motion and soared into the air, a flaming mirror of her movement. It was a pillar of fire, brilliant against the night sky as though it intended to swallow the moon whole. Vhalla lost control over it as she took a moment to admire their creation, the flames disappearing in the wind.
Vhalla locked eyes with the prince as a cheer rose through the camp at the sight of their colossal pyre. They knew—the whole world saw it—it was as clear as the flames that still blazed in the ignited trees before them. Together, they were unstoppable. Bound, Joined, madly in love, there were no longer any boundaries that could limit them. They were a single force of nature.
They stepped in time, picking up a run in perfect sync. Soldiers rushed behind them, but Vhalla wasn’t paying attention anymore. Her prince—his breath, his movements—was all she needed.
Aldrik dug his heels in, halting a second time, and held out his arms. Firebearers rushed up from the ranks and made a straight line out from either arm. “Funnel them!” Aldrik shouted over the chaos.
His arms motioned for where he wanted the flames. The Firebearers all moved in unison. Each had their own approach to wielding their magic, but they all focused on creating a separate patch of fire.
The Northern Groundbreakers braved the flames; some weaker ones were unsuccessful as their stone skin lit like tinder. The other soldiers dashed and darted, quickly trying to avoid the blaze. As they crowded inward, there were the pitiable few who were forced screaming into the fires by their own allies pushing at their back. The ones who made it to the end of the funnel were met with the Imperial army’s front line.